She comes hours too late. The narrow alley stinks of piss and decaying trash. The body is in the dumpster - she spares it a bare glance as she walks past, for the frail, pale limbs, the wide, shattered eyes, the blood that stains the insides of the girl's legs.
Nothing she hasn't seen before.
She turns to look at the spirit. The girl is wearing her school uniform; she stands by the dumpster and stares at her cooling body with eyes already showing the first hint of madness. She is not crying, or huddled into herself - she is angry, with a fury Rukia can feel from ten steps away.
Ah. One of the dangerous ones.
The girl does not look at her. She is locked in the moment of her dying, she has eyes for nothing else.
"I'll kill him. I'll kill him. I'll kill him. I'll kill him," she says to herself. Her footsteps drift to the dumpster, then back, as if repelled. She turns to the mouth of the alley and Rukia sees her chain of fate fall and hit the ground with a clank. It stretches out of the alley, down the street, to someone she cannot see.
The girl has bound herself to her killer. The spirit drifts past Rukia, following the chain. She is almost past when Rukia catches her by the shoulder and says, "No."
The spirit stops. Slowly turns to look at her. The wide grey eyes fixed on the-death-that-was suddenly find themselves fixed on Death, as-it-is. Death that has no true face, only one final end.
"Shizuka Reiko," Rukia says. The spirit nods.
"How do you know my name?"
Rukia isn't here to provide answers. "I am here to see to your safe passage to the afterlife."
The girl tries to pull away. "No. No. I can't go. I have to kill him, I have to kill him, I have to hurt him, he hurt me..."
Rukia doesn't loosen her grip. It would be fitting for the child to become a Hollow (children's spirits make the most dangerous Hollows, their hearts are so easily, easily broken) and exact her vengeance in death. Poetic justice, she believes it's called. But she deals in death, not justice, and a Hollow-in-the-birthing cannot be allowed to run loose.
"I can't let you do that," she says, hand already on her sword.
The girl screams, a howl that seems to shatter the space in which they stand, so that Rukia finds herself almost forced back - by a spirit barely two hours dead, no less.
She draws her sword, tightens her grip on the struggling spirit, and drives the hilt into the girl's temple. The scream cuts off into a void of sound too absolute to be silence - there are tears in the girl's eyes.
"It's not fair," she whispers. "Not fair, not fair, not..."
A breath, she crumbles, and is gone.
Mortals, Rukia thinks, are so frail. Weak.